How to Answer the Question "Tell Me About Yourself!"

Take a person out of the job-interview setting and the question "Tell me about yourself!" becomes very easy to answer.

In a social situation, most people would answer this way: "Well, I live here in Portsmouth with my family and I work at the bank" or "I grew up in Scotland and moved here four years ago to go to grad school."

It's not hard to answer the question "What's your story?" outside of the formal, scripted job-interview setting.

The problem is that when a job interviewer says "Tell me about yourself!" you have no idea what he or she wants to hear. You hope the interviewer has already read your resume before you walk into the room, but you also know that it's more likely s/he hasn't.

You show up as a blank slate. The interviewer knows exactly nothing about you. Where would you begin to explain who you are and what you do? You don't have all day to lay out your background. How do you possibly begin?

Here's my recommendation. You can use the question "Tell me about yourself!" (not really a question, but close enough) to shift the job interview off the traditional script and into more fertile conversational territory.

What is your goal in a job interview, after all? You want to learn as much as you can about the Business Pain confronting your hiring manager, and you want to let him or her know that you've dealt with that type of Business Pain before.

What is Business Pain? It's any problem that slows an organization down, and luckily for job-seekers there is Business Pain everywhere. You probably have some idea of the Business Pain a hiring manager is up against before you step into the interview.

You must! You've got to research any organization you're going to be interviewing with and think about the problems most likely to be vexing your manager.

You have to develop a Pain Hypothesis before you set foot in the building. You have to have an idea in your mind of what's not working in the hiring manager's department, such that the manager is willing to spend money (your salary) to fix the problem.

You can use the Pain Interviewing technique with your hiring manager, but don't use it with an HR screener or recruiter. That person isn't likely to be close to the Business Pain your hiring manager is experiencing, and your attempts to get off the script will only frustrate and confuse him or her.

Here's how you'll use the question "Tell me about yourself!" to get your hiring manager off the script and to get into the meaty topic of your manager's Business Pain:

MANAGER: Thanks for coming over today. So, Chris, tell me about yourself!

YOU (CHRIS): For sure. Well, I grew up here in the area and I went to State for my degree in Communications. I've been working in Sales Support for three years. Listen, I don't want to keep you here all night listening to my story -- can I ask you a quick question about the job, just to make sure I understand what you're looking for?

MANAGER: Sure!

YOU: I saw in your job ad that you need someone to take care of your major accounts once they've placed an order, and keep them happy and up-to-date on new product releases. That makes perfect sense. My question is, who's taking care of new customers now? Once your salesperson gets a purchase order, what happens?

MANAGER: Right now, our sales guy gets a PO and gives it to Order Fulfillment and that gets the ball rolling. The problem is that our salespeople have way too many other things to do. They don't have time to check on every order and keep tabs on our new customers, who need the most support.

YOU: So is it fair to say that you're losing sales because the new customers who need the most support are sucking up your salespeople's time and keeping them from closing new orders?

MANAGER: Yes, and on top of that our customer service people are complaining that they're spending thirty percent of their time on a handful of new customers. The good news is that once a new customer gets into the stream and they understand our systems, things settle down, but then there are even newer customers coming right behind them.

YOU: So this position is a service position, but it's a piece of the sales puzzle, also, if I understand. The more smoothly a new customer is brought on board, the more easily the salesperson who closed the deal can sail off to close another customer. So I'm guessing that your new hire will be doing a fair amount of education -- helping new customers understand how your systems work?

MANAGER: That's it. Never thought about it that way before, but you're right. Have you done that kind of work before?

YOU: At Angry Chocolates I started out as a customer service rep and worked my way into inside sales. Our inside salespeople, like me, do the same thing you're talking about this National Accounts person doing here -- they take the pressure off the outside salesperson, who has a big number to hit every month. I know my customers' kids' names and their dogs' names. I got to know them really well and they know they can get anything they need from me. That way our outside salespeople can say with total confidence, "You'll be dealing with Chris, our Inside Salesperson, now that you're on board with Angry Chocolates, but of course I'll be available if you need me."

MANAGER: But the outside guy doesn't really want to get a phone call from an existing customer.

YOU: Absolutely, and I don't want him to get that call either. I want him or her to be able to focus on closing new accounts around the country.

What has Chris conveyed in this short exchange? Chris understands the hiring manager's pain. Chris knows that pain very well and sees how the moving parts in a business fit together.

Sadly, most working people and job-seekers are somewhat asleep at the wheel. They can tell you "I know how to process invoices" or "I know how to build a website." They don't see very far beyond their own desk. Success in the new-millennium workplace relies on being able to get altitude on your own job and whatever organization you work for (or want to work for).

You can spin the question "Tell me about yourself!" to convert any interview into a powerful Pain Interview the same way Chris did.

You only have to develop a Pain Hypothesis like Chris did when he thought "I'll bet this company is creating this new position because their outside salespeople are squeezed between new customers and old ones, and it's costing them money."

It's a new day, and the Human Workplace is already here. The people who can step outside the established frames and bring themselves to work all the way -- beginning right in the job interview -- will grow their flames. Other people won't dare, and will sit in the interview chair and answer questions meekly and then fall silent and wait for the next question.

Which group would you rather be part of?
Want to learn more?

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